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Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Planned Prison Needs Rezoning

An artist’s rendition of the new prison was presented at the DPNR hearing. (Screenshot from zoning hearing)

The Alva A. Swann Correctional Annex in Sub Base was damaged beyond repair in 2017 by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The facility had been built to ease overcrowding in the St. Thomas jail. After the storms, it was vacated, and many prisoners in the 80-bed facility were transferred to off-island facilities. Space for their return won’t be opening for another five years.

William Karr, representing Property and Procurement and the Bureau of Corrections, said a replacement facility would not be finished before 2028.

He testified at a Department of Planning and Natural Resources zoning hearing requesting to rezone two parcels the old facility was on from Commercial to Public and three adjacent ones also. The plots are Nos. 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, and 109 in Estate Nisky. The request aims to bring zoning conformity to the old site and expand its potential footprint.

Karr did not know precisely how many prisoners were now held off-island. He added that he “was disappointed” with how long it was taking to get the prisoners back near their homes because it was stressful for families already in fragile situations. He added it was also expensive for the government to pay prisoners to be housed in stateside facilities.

At budget hearings last summer, Bureau of Corrections Director Wynnie Testamark testified that, as of July 15, the Corrections Bureau housed 236 inmates locally (76 at the Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex and 160 at John A. Bell). Of the inmates housed locally, 227 were male, and nine were female. Additionally, 148 inmates were housed at mainland facilities (83 at CoreCivic in Florida, 39 at three prisons in Virginia, and 26 in Mississippi).

According to Karr, the new facility will house 207 inmates and be a state-of-the-art facility with the latest in secure access and surveillance. It will have two full floors and a mezzanine. Karr said, “The building design has a lesser institutional aesthetic and would improve the neighborhood.”

The property is surrounded by property owned by the government and leased out. The project would require the government to break off its lease with a wood-burning shop.

He added other benefits to the project, such as that it could alleviate the federal consent decree and initiate hazardous waste cleanup in the area.

Demolition of the old building is expected in early 2025, with construction of the new starting in June 2025.

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